Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fanatic about candidate experience. It’s what everyone you interview is going to remember you by (whether you hire them or not), and some of those you interview could become your customers one day or be on the other side of the table interviewing you (stranger things have happened people).
But here’s something else you might not have thought of… your candidate experience sets the tone for those that you do hire. And since first impressions are more or less absolute, I can’t think of a more important thing to get right for the growth of your startup (or any kind of company if we’re keeping it real).
The truth is, the best talent isn’t going to work somewhere they’re not respected, appreciated, or enabled. And though it’s been a lopsided world in favor of companies who are doing the hiring thus far, that is changing. These days, candidates have a voice (and they are using it).
But it’s more than that – your future team members aren’t going to get excited about joining your mission to change the world unless they feel like you care about them and the task at hand. No one will, it’s human nature (it’s also The Golden Rule).
So that said, it’s exceptionally important to show your candidates that you value their contribution right from the start with how you interview them (every…step…of…the…way).
To make sure you are, here are 10 things you should never do when you’re hiring a salesperson (or anyone else for that matter).
1. Blow off an interview without a legit excuse (or heartfelt apology)
Take a second to imagine what would happen if you did this on a first date. What do you think your chances of getting a second shot would be?
Spoiler alert: it’s exactly the same when it comes to hiring. Top performers won’t take this well, and usually will opt for their current opportunity or a different one altogether (truly talented people are rarely unemployed or lacking a choice).
Look, I’ve worked in startups and sales for years. I know you are busy trying to grow and I know how incredibly hard it is to fit in interviews on top of that. But one thing that you should keep in mind is that the purpose of the hiring process is to take some weight off your shoulders in the first place.
Your candidates are eager to you with this (that’s the whole reason they took the interview in the first place). But not if a mutual respect for what they bring to the table isn’t there. So next time, make sure to put yourself in their shoes before you change things up on them – especially at the last minute (and be gracious if there is no way around it).
PS, if you have to change things up, make it up to them by rolling out the red carpet when you meet with them. Spend some extra time, offer valuable advice or insight that they couldn’t get anywhere else, be helpful and show them that you realize it’s not all about you.
2. Take forever to make a decision.
Plain and simple, no one like to be kept waiting. It’s why rush hour is so frustrating, and why long lines are often an excuse to avoid something all together.
But those same emotions exist when you’re waiting to hear back about whether you’re going to get an offer or not too. And I’ve seen startups lose potential hires (or almost lose potential hires) more times than I care to admit because of this.
In my experience, when you take more than 4-5 weeks to make a decision (without clear communication), candidates usually start to think their chances of getting an offer are dwindling. (the data supports this). And even worse, they often start to build a case why they don’t want to work with you after all.
Again, think back to the first date example. Let’s say the date goes well and they tell you they’ll call, but wait for weeks to do so. What’s going to be going through your head at that point if you had fun and were generally looking forward to date number two?
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not suggesting you rush the decision at all. Making a bad hire is super costly and it’s critical to get it right.
But you DO need to make sure that you’re being proactive with your communication so that your candidates won’t start telling themselves stories that aren’t true. So make sure to update them regularly on what’s going on and what to expect.
3. Fail to communicate how your interview process works.
The data is pretty straightforward here – over 60% of candidates say the biggest area for improvement during the interview process is in clearer, more transparent communication (whereas companies seem to think the big area for improvement is in the process).
Long story short, no one likes to be kept in the dark for anything. Doing so is a sure fire way to tell your candidates that they don’t really matter to you or you’re not taking the process seriously. So I hope you can see after point number two above and after looking at these stats how important communication is to creating attracting the best people for the job.
But communication is especially important for salespeople, as many make decisions to move based on information like quarterly goals, product roadmap, buyer experience, turnover, comp plans, having a voice, and more.
Bottom line: make sure everyone you’re interviewing is in the know before they start to wonder and that you’re upfront with each person about how your process works and what to expect.
4. Fail to be transparent when answering questions in an interview.
It’s pretty easy to tell when someone dodges a question with a fluff answer and I’m pretty confident someone has done this to you at least once in your lifetime. So I have to ask – what was your reaction when that happened?
I know mine is typically “What are you hiding?”
Transparency is everything in interviews, especially with the best talent. The interview process MUST be a two-way street if you want to get A+ people on board.
Again, the people who are going to come in and help you scale the mess out of your startup want to know that they’re signing on to work in a place that is going to appreciate, respect, and empower them to kill it. So don’t hide (or appear to hide) things from them.
If they ask a question, give them an honest and transparent answer. And if they don’t like what you say, take that as feedback and work on it. But for goodness sakes, don’t try to bait and switch them. It’s going to cost you more than you can possibly imagine when they find out they’ve been lied to and decide to walk.
(Note: have an NDA ready for any proprietary information they ask about)
5. Refuse to let candidates meet your existing team.
This is dangerous in three ways:
- It makes it look like you’re hiding something
- You don’t get to see how they would fit in
- You alienate your team and send a message that their opinions don’t matter
We’ve covered the reasons why number one is a bad idea in the point above (transparency), so I want to take a second to explain why getting them involved with the team is actually beneficial for you.
Whether your hire ends up being a slacker, a jerk or simply not the right fit, one bad hire can ruin your whole sales team. If you’re hiring questionable people, your team is going to notice… and they’ll likely start questioning your leadership or whether they are in the right place.
You have your team in place for a reason. So don’t you think it’s worth it to introduce them to your candidate and see how they interact?
It’s a great way to see how the new person would compliment the people already in place, the dynamic between all parties, and also shows your team that you value their input on who they work with. Even better, it’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from the feedback they give you post interview.
The key takeaway here: let your candidates and team mingle. You’ll learn a lot in the process. A great way to do this, invite your top candidates to participate in your next huddle, meetup or team outing.
6. Send a form rejection letter after a great interview.
Candidates spend hours preparing their resume, doing research, and connecting the dots. By the time they’re in front of you, they’ve already invested an incredible amount of time into your process, let alone the amount of time and energy it took to go through it (imagine if you’re putting them on a flight to meet you).
So please, please, PLEASE do not send them a form rejection letter. Nothing makes a person feel like they’ve been baited and switched than to wine them and dine them, and then send them a boring letter that sounds like a computer wrote it. They would probably prefer a swift kick to shins at that point (at least they would know how you really felt).
Remember, these people could be your customers someday (or who knows, maybe someone you’re interviewing with for a job)! If they’ve invested their time to interview, take the time to give them personal feedback and help them understand why you made the decision you did.
I guarantee you, if the person is a top performer, they’re going to take that feedback and run with it. Maybe they’ll come back and interview again once they do!
And just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean the door can’t be kept open. Who knows, you may want to hire this person for a different role in the future, network to help each other win, share insights and the list goes on. Why would you want to shut the door on that?
Whatever you do, keep it personal, positive, and transparent. Help them understand “why”, and thank them for taking the time to meet with you.
7. Test candidates but never share the results.
Continuing on the idea of transparent and useful feedback, this is another one that bugs the heck out of me.
I mean, if your candidates take the time to complete your Challenger, DISC, Myers Briggs, Sandler, and other tests you can give them, why not share the results with them? If we’re being honest with ourselves here, do you even know why you’re testing them and what to do with the results if you’re not sharing them?
I think the big issue here is startups often fail to truly understand the mindset of A+ sales talent. Top performers want to get better and are always looking for ways to do so. In fact, that ability to learn quickly and continuously is the one thing that separates the best talent from those who are mediocre at best.
That said, not sharing the test results is a red flag for A+ talent and rightfully so. It signals to them that you’re not going to help them get better and that your startup is not an environment that encourages creativity and discovery in their sales process.
It’s also a reflection of your leadership and what it might be like to really work for you.
On the flip side, this is also an important quality to look for in a prospective hire. No one is going to have all the answers right away, so whoever you hire needs to have the ability to go find them on their own.
Keep this in mind while you’re interviewing.
8. Put prospects in a tough spot with their current employer when they weren’t looking for something new.
Talented people are almost always employed (and many happily so). So if you want to bring in the best people to work with you, you’re usually going to have to persuade them to leave their current opportunity.
That said, one of the best ways to make sure the cream of the sales crop never joins you is to put them on the spot when their loyalties are elsewhere. So if/when you do reach out, do so delicately and intelligently to avoid alerting their current employer.
Otherwise, you’ll blow your chances before they even agree to an interview and create a nasty reputation for yourself in the process (not something you want).
The best way to do this is to approach your prospects just like you do when you’re networking. Get to know them first before you EVER try to sell them anything.
I recommend finding the answers to these questions to be the best way to do that:
- What’s important to them?
- What are they doing?
- Where are they doing it?
- Why are they doing it?
9. Make candidates present your company and cut them over one missed stat.
Seriously, this infuriates me. Get over yourself!
Sadly, not only do I often see people get cut over a couple of small details they didn’t have (come on people, they’re not even working with you yet and have their own job to do every single day), it’s usually accompanied by a lack of explanation as to why they were cut in the first place.
Isn’t the purpose of this to see how they present in addition to their ability to push an audience to the next level?
Again, refer to my points above about feedback and transparency, and remember that the more important quality to look for is someone who is always trying to be the best version of themselves, not someone who has it all figured out already (this person doesn’t exist).
The best way to tie this all together? The Golden Rule:
Put yourself in your candidate’s shoes. Imagine the interview process you would want for yourself if you were interviewing and build that for your candidates (you’re a talented individual too after all).
- the kind of feedback you would want to have from an interview
- when you would want to receive that feedback
- what it would feel like to be left in the dark
- the things that actually matter to your success (not the petty stuff)
- what questions you would have regarding a company you’re interviewing with
…. and be prepared for that from your candidates!
Since candidate experience is such an important thing, I want to leave you with a few other resources that will help you get it right:
- Why a positive candidate experience is critical to growing your startup – if you’re still not sure whether candidate experience really matters or not, this will lay it all out for you.
- What your candidate experience should look like if you want to grow your startup – the soup to nuts guide to what a killer candidate experience should look like if you want to bring on the talent that will help you grow.
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